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Napoleonic Warfare Essay


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Napoleonic Warfare


Napoleon was a great military strategist and tactician of his time. His work formed the basis of military education throughout the western world and the great Frenchman influenced many military thinking. In this respect, most of European war generals utilized the methods of Napoleon to ensure massive success[1]. Furthermore, Napoleon was a great innovator as a soldier since he dominated art of warfare amongst the European powers between 1796 and 1815. In fact, he established himself as a great leader of soldiers during French Revolutionary Wars during the conquest of Toulon and his victory over Italy in 1796[2]. Furthermore, he succeeded in battles of Austerlitz, Ulm and Jena between 1805 and 1806.

In general, a lot of Napoleon’s campaigns were founded on logistics.  He was capable of sustaining his army because of his planning and executing ability. His armies were the largest in the history of Western Europe[3]. Therefore, he used innovative strategies in order to supply his armies. In this regard, he used insistence on spreading out and foraging to supplement his depots[4]. In addition, his military campaign was aimed at achieving his strategic objectives. That is why he focused on bringing the enemy to a battle.

Moreover, Napoleon used two of his favorite strategies to crash his opponents. First, he used strategy of indirect approach when his army had adequate soldiers and maneuvering space[5]. The strategy encompasses massive turning movement in front of the enemy. Actually, one or two corps was used to interrupt the attention of the enemy to the front. Meanwhile the commander would match and attack the enemy from behind[6]. In addition, the army would surround wide march on enemies’ strategic area providing a substantial geographic feature and a curtain of maneuver. The cavalry from in front coupled with attacks in the rear side would prevent reinforcement from coming up. Therefore, this strategy brought smashing victories of Jena in 1806 and Ulm in 1805 as well as Fried land in 1807[7]. However, this strategy required shift movement, aggressive use of pinning forces and strong cavalry.

Secondly, he used strategy of Central position that was applicable when his armies were weaker than the enemy was. This strategy was used successfully in Austria in 1809 and in Belgium in 1815. Thus, it involved the use of careful timing, bold leadership and shift movement[8]. Most notably, it required the armies to get between the enemy concentrations. Therefore, it prevented the enemies from uniting. Napoleon would establish decisive battle by concentrating his armies against the more threatening enemy contingent.

Consequently, he used the two strategies interchangeably in Germany, Russia, and Austria. Moreover, Napoleon was the head of state and government as well as commander-in-chief. At such a position, he was able to maintaining cohesiveness in the army from the beginning of the war to the end. In addition, he utilized intelligence that prepared proper strategic objectives and conditions[9]. Besides, the intelligence established operational scenery and joined the engagement. The commander of intelligence assigned priorities, resources, rules of engagement and boundaries.

Napoleon decided to be in a position to control and observe all the battles individually from various key positions. He separated himself from his tactical headquarters[10]. To tell the truth, this enabled him to have flexibility to exercise command at all the decisive point of a battle. Additionally, the main headquarter controlled the activity of the army. In this regard, he was able to understand what was happening and make timely decisions, communicate his preferred decisions and maintain contact with the commanders so that any arising conflict could be solved.

Most notably, Napoleon ensured that all battles were under his control. Therefore, he issued comprehensive guidance and battle plans. In addition, he issued directives on combined attacks of cavalry reserves, infantry and massed batteries of guns[11]. He insisted a common aspect of bloodletting and rapid matching to gain time. In most of the time, French conscripts could hold on in frantic combat waiting for backing from the rest of the army

In fact, Napoleon used two successful battle tactics. First, he used the battle of maneuver that needed superiority in numbers. The main force in his army held the attention of the enemy to his front. Besides, the other force fell upon his edges and then spreading up to the rest of his line[12]. This tactic was advantageous because it caused major defeat on the enemy at minimal cost. He also applied a reserve of armies in the rear of the enemy.

Secondly, he used the battle of attrition where he applied frontal slugging match. Additionally he used firepower in enormous quantities until his armies appeared to be wearying. However, he would then send huge numbers of armies that would crash their way through his lines[13]. Nonetheless, this tactic was costly. The tactic ensured he secured victories in 1809 in the battle of Wagram and Borodino in 1812. He recommended maneuver over the battle of attrition because it helped him to secure less costly and quick success.


In general, Napoleon’s brilliance as a tactician and strategist helped him to conduct more battles than any other commander before and since then. He secured victories in most of his battles in Europe for over a decade[14]. By 1805, he had become the head of state and government in France controlling many European countries.


Duggan, William R. Napoleon’s Glance. 1st ed. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2004.

Fremont-Barnes, Gregory. Napoleon Bonaparte. 1st ed. Oxford: Osprey Pub., 2010.

Jones, Archer. The Art Of War In The Western World. 1st ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001.

Vego, Milan N. Joint Operational Warfare. 1st ed. Newport, RI: U.S. Naval War College, 2009.

Wade, Norman M. The Army Operations & Doctrine Smartbook. 1st ed. Lakeland, FL: Lightning Press, 2008.